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Highly Anticipated Books

I made a blog post quite some time ago, stating that I was going to stop adding books to my ridiculously long TBR list.  As is perhaps predictable, this didn’t last that long, particularly when the ‘best of’ lists started to emerge last year.  I thought, therefore, that I would make a list of books which I am particularly looking forward to, and which I hope to get to sooner rather than later.  Not all of them were published in 2018; indeed, some of them are much earlier.  I have collected together ten titles here, in no particular order, and have included their official blurbs alongside them.

 

1. Census by Jesse Ball 35068746
‘A powerful and moving new novel from an award-winning, acclaimed author: in the wake of a devastating revelation, a father and son journey north across a tapestry of town.  When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn’t have long left to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son–a son whom he fiercely loves, a boy with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son.  Traveling into the country, through towns named only by ascending letters of the alphabet, the man and his son encounter a wide range of human experience. While some townspeople welcome them into their homes, others who bear the physical brand of past censuses on their ribs are wary of their presence. When they press toward the edges of civilization, the landscape grows wilder, and the towns grow farther apart and more blighted by industrial decay. As they approach “Z,” the man must confront a series of questions: What is the purpose of the census? Is he complicit in its mission? And just how will he learn to say good-bye to his son?  Mysterious and evocative, Census is a novel about free will, grief, the power of memory, and the ferocity of parental love, from one of our most captivating young writers.’

 

367110262. The Wildlands by Abby Geni
‘Mercy, Oklahoma became infamous when a Category Five tornado ravaged the small town. No family was more devastated than the McClouds: four siblings left orphaned, their home and farm gone. Darlene, Jane, and Cora became the media focus of the tornado’s aftermath, causing great tension with Tucker, who soon abandoned his sisters to their grief and disappeared.  On the three-year anniversary of the tornado, a cosmetics factory outside of Mercy is bombed, and the lab animals trapped within are released. This violent act appears at first to have nothing to do with “the saddest family in Mercy.” Then Tucker reappears, injured in the blast, and seeks the help of nine-year-old Cora. Caught up in the thrall of her brilliant, charismatic brother, whom she has desperately missed, Cora agrees to accompany Tucker on his cross-country mission to save animals and make war on human civilisation.  Soon Cora is not just Tucker’s companion but his accomplice. Learning at his knee, she takes on a new identity, engaging in escalating acts of violence and testing the limits of her humanity. Darlene works with Mercy police to find her siblings, leading to an unexpected showdown at the San Diego Zoo, as Tucker erases the boundaries between the human and animal world.’

 

3. Heat Wave by Penelope Lively 40655312
‘Pauline is spending the summer at World’s End, a cottage somewhere in the middle of England. This year the adjoining cottage is occupied by her daughter Teresa and baby grandson Luke; and, of course, Maurice, the man Teresa married. As the hot months unfold, Maurice grows ever more involved in the book he is writing – and with his female copy editor – and Pauline can only watch in dismay and anger as her daughter repeats her own mistakes in love. The heat and tension will lead to a violent, startling climax.  In Heat Wave, Penelope Lively gives us a moving portrayal of a fragile family damaged and defined by adultery, and the lengths to which a mother will go to protect the ones she loves.’

 

320766784. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
‘Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes–the moment she hears him speak of his crimes — she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.  Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime.  But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Ricky’s.  An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, The Fact of a Body is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed — but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, ten years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe — and the truth more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.’

 

5. All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky 9568575
‘In haunting ways, this gorgeous novel prefigures Irène Némirovsky’s masterpiece Suite Française. Set in France between 1910 and 1940 and first published in France in 1947, five years after the author’s death, All Our Worldly Goods is a gripping story of war, family life and star-crossed lovers. Pierre and Agnes marry for love against the wishes of his parents and his grandfather, the tyrannical family patriarch. Their marriage provokes a family feud that cascades down the generations. This brilliant novel is full of drama, heartbreak, and the telling observations that have made Némirovsky’s work so beloved and admired.’

 

5995506. Death in Summer by William Trevor
There were three deaths that summer. The first was Letitia’s, sudden and quite unexpected, leaving her husband, Thaddeus, haunted by the details of her last afternoon. 
The next death came some weeks later, after Thaddeus’s mother-in-law helped him to interview for a nanny to bring up their baby. None of the applicants were suitable–least of all the last one, with her sharp features, her shabby clothes that reeked of cigarettes, her badly typed references–so Letitia’s mother moved herself in. But then, just as the household was beginning to settle down, the last of the nannies surprisingly returned, her unwelcome arrival heralding the third of the summer tragedies.

 

7. The Shrimp and the Anemone by L.P. Hartley 39358010
‘An evocative account of a childhood summer spent beside the sea in Norfolk by brother and sister, Eustace and Hilda.’

 

8. After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search by Sarah Perry
‘When Sarah Perry was twelve, she saw a partial eclipse of the sun, an event she took as a sign of good fortune for her and her mother, Crystal. But that brief moment of darkness ultimately foreshadowed a much 33413878larger one: two days later, Crystal was murdered in their home in rural Maine, just a few feet from Sarah’s bedroom.  The killer escaped unseen; it would take the police twelve years to find him, time in which Sarah grew into adulthood, struggling with abandonment, police interrogations, and the effort of rebuilding her life when so much had been lost. Through it all she would dream of the eventual trial, a conviction—all her questions finally answered. But after the trial, Sarah’s questions only grew. She wanted to understand her mother’s life, not just her final hours, and so she began a personal investigation, one that drew her back to Maine, taking her deep into the abiding darkness of a small American town.  Told in searing prose, After the Eclipse is a luminous memoir of uncomfortable truth and terrible beauty, an exquisite memorial for a mother stolen from her daughter, and a blazingly successful attempt to cast light on her life once more.’

 

9. The Gipsy’s Baby by Rosamond Lehmann 6106404
‘In these captivating short stories, we find perfect miniatures of Rosamond Lehmann’s fictional world. The themes that permeate her novels are echoed here—delicate portrayals of the world of adults as seen through the eyes of childhood, and fascination with other families—their otherness and the romance of their separate worlds. These beautifully crafted stories wonderfully demonstrate the genius of Rosamond Lehmann.’

 

185367310. Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel
‘Imaginative and intelligent, Alberta is a misfit trapped in a stiflingly provincial town in the far north of Norway whose only affinity is for her extrovert brother Jacob.’

 

 

 

Which books are on your highly anticipated list?  Have you read any of these?

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One From the Archive: ‘After Me Comes the Flood’ by Sarah Perry **

The intriguing premise of Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood is as follows: ‘What if you walked out of your life only to find another one was already waiting for you?’ 9781781253649  Heralded ‘elegant, gently sinister and psychologically complex’, the novel holds instant appeal for fans of books like Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, and of authors such as Sarah Waters.

The protagonist of the piece is John Cole, a lonely man who decides to leave his life behind him and join his brother at his secluded house in rural Norfolk.  Whilst driving away from the neglected bookshop which he owns in London, his car – rather predictably, one may think – breaks down, and he finds himself lost.  Searching for help, he stumbles upon a grand house: ‘It seemed to me the most real and solid thing I’d ever seen, and at the same time only a trick of my sight in the heat’.  John is soon welcomed with opened arms by the odd community of people within, who seem to have been expecting him all along: ‘I ought really to have been afraid of the strangeness and the dark and the insistent child, and those appalling meat hooks hanging from their chains, but instead it all seemed so absurd, and so like something in a novel, that I began to laugh’.

Throughout, Perry uses two differing voices – the first person perspective of John, who is writing an account of his time in his house, and an omniscient third person narrative.  John’s voice drawns one in from the outset: ‘I’m writing this in a stranger’s room on a broken chair at an old school desk.  The chair creaks if I move, and so I must keep very still’.  He goes on to say, ‘I wish I could use some other voice to write this story down.  I wish I could take all the books that I’ve loved best and borrow better words than these, but I’ve got to make do with an empty notebook and a man who never had a tale to tell and doesn’t know how to begin except for the beginning’.

Perry manages to set the oppressive tone of the book almost as soon as it begins: ‘I’ve been listening for footsteps on the stairs or voices in the garden, but there’s only the sound of a household keeping quiet.  They gave me too much drink – there’s a kind of buzzing in my ears and if I close my eyes they sting’.  On the whole, After Me Came the Flood is very well written, and the descriptions which Perry gives of her characters are particularly striking.  Hester, for example, the woman who appears to be in charge of the house, ‘seemed poorly assembled, as though she’d been put together from leftover pieces – her eyes set under a deeply lined forehead, her nose crooked like a child’s drawing of a witch, her skin thick and coarse’.

After Me Came the Flood becomes unsettling rather quickly, and at times it takes quite unexpected turns.  A real sense of place is built, and the first half of the multi-layered novel is very engrossing indeed.  At around this point, however, the religious elements which have previously been touched upon serve only to saturate the entire plot, and cause the whole to become rather plodding in its pace.  The suspense is lost altogether, and it never really picks up again.  The denouement is also rather predictable.  All of these elements sadly add an unfortunate stain to what would otherwise be an intriguing and well driven novel.

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‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry ***

I was given a copy of Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent for Christmas, and came to it with rather high hopes, as I know that a lot of fellow readers have adored it.  It was chosen as the Waterstones Book of the Year in 2016, and has also been selected for innumerable ‘best of’ lists.  I was rather underwhelmed with Perry’s debut novel, After Me Comes the Flood; I will be posting my archived review of this tome tomorrow.

9781781255452The Essex Serpent begins in London in 1893.  Cora Seaborne has been recently widowed, and decides to move to Colchester in Essex with her young son, ‘black-haired, silent’ Francis.  She hears rumours almost as soon as she has relocated about ‘the Essex serpent’, a creature of local folklore which has been said to have returned to roam the marshes.  The serpent is described as ‘a great creeping thing, as they tell it, more dragon than serpent, as content on land as in water, that suns its wings on a fair day.’  After some time, Cora decides to set off upon the serpent’s trail.  This is only one thread of the novel; it is set at a time of great change, and Perry effectively contrasts Cora’s love of science, and the scientific advances of the age, with a local vicar named William Ransome, who is focused wholly upon his faith.  The blurb says that the novel is, ‘above all, a celebration of love in all its incarnations, and of what we share even when we disagree.’

The historical settings come to life from the beginning, and were, for me, a real strength of the novel.  In her opening chapter, which begins on New Year’s Eve, Perry writes: ‘One o’clock on a dreary day and the time ball dropped at the Greenwich Observatory.  There was ice on the prime meridian, and ice on the rigging of the broad-beamed barges down on the busy Thames.  Skippers marked the time and tide…  Time was being served behind the walls of Newgate jail, and wasted by philosophers in cafes on the Strand.’  Had this thread of the passing of time been included throughout the novel, I feel as though it would have drawn the whole together; rather, whilst beautifully written, and certainly effective at evoking the scene, it feel as though this prologue was separate from the rest of the novel.  The quality of Perry’s writing, in my opinion, was inconsistent; it felt very polished in the prologue, and in selected chapters later on, but due to the pace of the novel proper, it was plodding in other places.  The prose on its own was often lovely, but there was a strange density to it, and I did not find The Essex Serpent a very easy book either to read, or to immerse myself within, in consequence.

Perry did capture Cora’s new position in life, and the complexity of feeling which struck her when her abusive husband, Michael, died: ‘The sensation was decently suppressed, but all the same she could name it: it was not happiness, precisely, nor even contentment, but relief.  There was grief, too, that was certain, and she was grateful for it, since however loathed he’d been by the end, he’d formed her, at least in part – and what good ever came of self-loathing?’  Of his father’s death, Francis’ feelings are rather less predictable: ‘That his father had died struck him as a calamity, but one no worse than the loss of one of his treasures the day before (a pigeon’s feather, quite ordinary, but which could be coiled into a perfect circle without snapping its spine).’

Natural history as an element has been used very well within The Essex Serpent, and this was one of my favourite parts of the book, snaking, as it did, in and out of various chapters.  The characters were problematic, however; Cora is the main focus of the novel, but I do not feel as though I knew her satisfactorily come the end.  No single character within The Essex Serpent feels wholly realistic; for me, Francis and his behaviour would have been a much more interesting focus had it been elaborated upon more often.

Whilst I liked the core idea, and am fascinated with the period of history which Perry has focused upon, I found The Essex Serpent to be rather a slow-going novel.  I did not feel as though the whole came together satisfactorily, certainly not as well as it could have had certain plotlines been tightened up slightly, or focused upon a little more.  I felt something of a detachment toward the characters, and the entire novel did not feel as though it was quite a consistent work; for me, the prologue and end chapters held a lot more promise than the rest of the novel.  Whilst I admire the way in which Perry has completely embraced Victoriana, and has reflected the literature of the period in stylising her own sentences, The Essex Serpent did not read as fluently or fluidly as it could have done.

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The Book Trail: Dorothy Whipple to Teffi

I am posting another book trail today, to see where we can get from the starting point of Dorothy Whipple.

They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple 9781903155462
‘Like several of Dorothy Whipple’s brilliant mid-twentieth-century novels, this is apparently gentle but has a very strong theme, in this case domestic violence. Three sisters marry very different men and the choices they make determine whether they will flourish, be tamed or be repressed. Lucy’s husband is her beloved companion; Vera’s husband bores her and she turns elsewhere; and Charlotte’s husband is a bully who turns a high-spirited naive young girl into a deeply unhappy woman.’


9781910702505Freya 
by Anthony Quinn
‘London, May 1945. Freya Wyley, twenty, meets Nancy Holdaway, eighteen, amid the wild celebrations of VE Day, the prelude to a devoted and competitive friendship that will endure on and off for the next two decades. Freya, wilful, ambitious, outspoken, pursues a career in newspapers which the chauvinism of Fleet Street and her own impatience conspire to thwart, while Nancy, gentler, less self-confident, struggles to get her first novel published. Both friends become entangled at university with Robert Cosway, a charismatic young man whose own ambition will have a momentous bearing on their lives.   Flitting from war-haunted Oxford to the bright new shallows of the 1960s, Freya plots the unpredictable course of a woman’s life and loves against a backdrop of Soho pornographers, theatrical peacocks, willowy models, priapic painters, homophobic blackmailers, political careerists.  Beneath the relentless thrum of changing times and a city being reshaped, we glimpse the eternal: the battles fought by women in pursuit of independence, the intimate mysteries of the human heart, and the search for love. Stretching from the Nuremberg war trials to the advent of the TV celebrity, from innocence abroad to bitter experience at home, Freya presents the portrait of an extraordinary woman taking arms against a sea of political and personal tumult.’


Mothering Sunday
 by Graham Swift 9781471155239
‘It is March 30th 1924.  It is Mothering Sunday. How will Jane Fairchild, orphan and housemaid, occupy her time when she has no mother to visit? How, shaped by the events of this never to be forgotten day, will her future unfold?   Beginning with an intimate assignation and opening to embrace decades, Mothering Sunday has at its heart both the story of a life and the life that stories can magically contain. Constantly surprising, joyously sensual and deeply moving, it is Graham Swift at his thrilling best.’


9780571225194Golden Hill 
by Francis Spufford
‘One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat pitches up at a counting-house door in Golden Hill Street: this is Mr Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion simmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge amount, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he can be planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money.  Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him?  An astonishing first novel, as stuffed with incident as a whole shelf of conventional fiction, Golden Hill is both a book about the eighteenth century, and itself a novel cranked back to the form’s eighteenth century beginnings, when anything could happen on the page, and usually did, and a hero was not a hero unless he ran the frequent risk of being hanged.’


The Essex Serpent 
by Sarah Perry 9781781255445
‘London 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one, and she never suited the role of society wife. Accompanied by her son Francis – a curious, obsessive boy – she leaves town for Essex, where she hopes fresh air and open space will provide the refuge they need.  When they take lodgings in Colchester, rumours reach them from further up the estuary that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, is immediately enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a previously undiscovered species. As she sets out on its trail, she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter’s vicar.  Like Cora, Will is deeply suspicious of the rumours, but he thinks they are founded on moral panic, a flight from real faith. As he tries to calm his parishioners, he and Cora strike up an intense relationship, and although they agree on absolutely nothing, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart, eventually changing each other’s lives in ways entirely unexpected. ‘


9780571234868The Vanishing Futurist 
by Charlotte Hobson
When twenty-two-year-old Gerty Freely travels to Russia to work as a governess in early 1914, she has no idea of the vast political upheavals ahead, nor how completely her fate will be shaped by them.  In 1917, revolution sweeps away the Moscow Gerty knew. The middle classes – and their governesses – are fleeing the country, but she stays, throwing herself into an experiment in communal living led by charismatic inventor Nikita Slavkin, inspired by his belief in a future free of bourgeois clutter and alight with creativity. Yet the chaos and violence of the outside world cannot be withstood forever. Slavkin’s sudden disappearance inspires the Soviet cult of the Vanishing Futurist, the scientist who sacrificed himself for the Communist ideal. Gerty, alone and vulnerable, must now discover where that ideal will ultimately lead.  Strikingly vivid, this debut novel by award-winning writer Charlotte Hobson pierces the heart with a story of fleeting, but infinite possibility.’


Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea 
by Teffi 9781782271697
The writer and satirist Teffi was a literary sensation in Russia until war and revolution forced her to leave her country for ever. Memories is her blackly funny and heartbreaking account of her final, frantic journey into exile across Russia-travelling by cart, freight train and rickety steamer-and the ‘ordinary and unheroic’ people she encounters. From refugees setting up camp on a dockside to a singer desperately buying a few ‘last scraps’ of fabric to make a dress, all are caught up in the whirlwind; all are immortalized by Teffi’s penetrating gaze. Fusing exuberant wit and bitter horror, this is an extraordinary portrayal of what it means to say goodbye, with haunting relevance in today’s new age of diaspora. Published in English for the first time, it confirms the rediscovery of Teffi as one of the most humane, perceptive observers of her time, and an essential writer for ours.’

Who thought we would start with a wonderful novel about England and end up in Russia and the Baltic?  As ever, if you have enjoyed this and wish to suggest a starting point for the next Literary Trail, please do!

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‘After Me Comes the Flood’ by Sarah Perry **

The intriguing premise of Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood is as follows: ‘What if you walked out of your life only to find another one was already waiting for you?’   Heralded ‘elegant, gently sinister and psychologically complex’, the novel holds instant appeal for fans of books like Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, and of authors such as Sarah Waters.

The protagonist of the piece is John Cole, a lonely man who decides to leave his life behind him and join his brother at his secluded house in rural Norfolk.  Whilst driving away from the neglected bookshop which he owns in London, his car – rather predictably, one may think – breaks down, and he finds himself lost.  Searching for help, he stumbles upon a grand house: ‘It seemed to me the most real and solid thing I’d ever seen, and at the same time only a trick of my sight in the heat’.  John is soon welcomed with opened arms by the odd community of people within, who seem to have been expecting him all along: ‘I ought really to have been afraid of the strangeness and the dark and the insistent child, and those appalling meat hooks hanging from their chains, but instead it all seemed so absurd, and so like something in a novel, that I began to laugh’.

Throughout, Perry uses two differing voices – the first person perspective of John, who is writing an account of his time in his house, and an omniscient third person narrative.  John’s voice drawns one in from the outset: ‘I’m writing this in a stranger’s room on a broken chair at an old school desk.  The chair creaks if I move, and so I must keep very still’.  He goes on to say, ‘I wish I could use some other voice to write this story down.  I wish I could take all the books that I’ve loved best and borrow better words than these, but I’ve got to make do with an empty notebook and a man who never had a tale to tell and doesn’t know how to begin except for the beginning’.

Perry manages to set the oppressive tone of the book almost as soon as it begins: ‘I’ve been listening for footsteps on the stairs or voices in the garden, but there’s only the sound of a household keeping quiet.  They gave me too much drink – there’s a kind of buzzing in my ears and if I close my eyes they sting’.  On the whole, After Me Came the Flood is very well written, and the descriptions which Perry gives of her characters are particularly striking.  Hester, for example, the woman who appears to be in charge of the house, ‘seemed poorly assembled, as though she’d been put together from leftover pieces – her eyes set under a deeply lined forehead, her nose crooked like a child’s drawing of a witch, her skin thick and coarse’.

After Me Came the Flood becomes unsettling rather quickly, and at times it takes quite unexpected turns.  A real sense of place is built, and the first half of the multi-layered novel is very engrossing indeed.  At around this point, however, the religious elements which have previously been touched upon serve only to saturate the entire plot, and cause the whole to become rather plodding in its pace.  The suspense is lost altogether, and it never really picks up again.  The denouement is also rather predictable.  All of these elements sadly add an unfortunate stain to what would otherwise be an intriguing and well driven novel.

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